Review Summary: One of the 80s’ best moments surprisingly happened within the psychedelic rock genre. And one of psychedelic rock’s best moments even more surprisingly happened within the 80s.
Rain Parade perfected the idea of being in the wrong place at the wrong time - well, at least the second half of it. The early 80s were for sure the worst period for a psychedelic rock band and so though they had the potential to become as huge as their idols from the late 60s’ hippie era they didn’t stand a chance. After the debut “Emergency Third Rail Power Trip” was released at first in England, later in the US, they became part of the so-called Plaisley Underground, a neopsychedelia scene located in Los Angeles that included among others bands like The Bangles and The Dream Syndicate. One year after the critically acclaimed but commercially completely unsuccessful first album Rain Parade had lost one of their members, the guitarist and vocalist David Roback, but continued as a quartet and released this EP including five songs that showed a definite improvement upon the already wonderful debut.
If the debut “Emergency Third Rail Power Trip” had one weakness it was the almost excessive use of a great range of sounds and instruments that sometimes threatened to dwarf the actual music. So, about a year later in 1984 they eventually took the important step back and recorded an album that is at once simplistic and extremely rich, something I know on this level only from Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pillow” - which seems being the most important inspiration for “Explosions in the Glass Palace” and the band as a whole. While all of their idols, not only Jefferson Airplane but also The Beatles, The Doors, The Byrds and even The Velvet Underground are obvious, this time their music seems not anymore like a great, but still not completely original mix of their favourite ideas from their favourite artists (almost like a Pulp Fiction of psychedelia, so to speak), instead they’ve definitely found their own, unique style. The underlying mood of their music has slightly changed, the overall melancholy has even increased; with the exception of the opening track all songs have a very sad feeling to them, though more of a melancholic than a depressing way. The sound of their music is still the same, only more perfectly produced, with Matt Piucci’s electric guitars in the center, a particularly soft rhythm section (Steven Roback on bass and Eddie Kanlwa on drums) and Will Glenn’s subtle keyboards. The music is never spectacular, but that’s not needed anyway. Even the lyrics seem to have matured although still having that childlike naivety and wonderment. And the two remaining vocalists Matt Piucci and Steven Roback deliver a wonderful job, singing some of the most dreamy and beautiful melodies imaginable.
The opener You Are My Friend
is as close to the debut as this album gets, a pretty pop tune with gorgeous melodies and lively, almost jangly guitars. It is on Prisoners
that the whole evolution of the band becomes visible: a lonely Neil Young-like guitar gently weeps, to say it with George Harrison’s words, while drums and bass keep a slow but steady rhythm and the two vocalists use their different voices to full extent. Another change in the songwriting is also shown clearly on this and the next four tracks: whereas on “Emergency Third Rail Power Trip” the songs were driven by constant changes and slight breaks, this time they are much straighter. Some may call this boring or repetitive, but it’s important for the album’s mood and all of the songs are short enough to never bore me. This more lineal structure is what differs the following track Blue
from their earlier stuff, though sound and style are pretty similar, only the mood has increased to a sadder level. Broken Horse
then is an acoustic driven song, and the most Jefferson Airplane-like sounding song not written by Jefferson Airplane I’ve ever heard. Still Rain Parade manage to make it sound their own. The album is ended by the longest track, No Easy Way Down
that, while being quite long, has no striking breaks or changes throughout it's seven minutes. Well, there are playful instrumental parts taking turns with beautiful vocal parts, many of them consisting of the song’s title repeated over and over again like a mantra, but it's all done over a steady rhythm and a constantly recurring guitar figure. So if someone would call this boring and repetitive I’d nod and agree it’s repetitive, but that doesn’t make it bland in the slightest way. Instead it’s one of those dreamlike songs you can completely let yourself fall into and let it’s almost hypnotic scheme carry you.
So what can be said about this album as a conclusion" It’s genius in my opinion, one of the most beautiful psychedelic rock records ever made, full of nostalgia and melancholy. But still, as much as it hurts me, I can’t recommend it to everyone; it’s one of those albums only fans of this particular genre will like. But if you belong to them, there should be no more questions, it’s definitely worth getting.